As I reflected this morning on Seth Godin's comments yesterday, my mind moved to a different aspect of what he was saying. Yes, there may develop an easier way of constructing citations. But what is being lost, as we move further into this electronic world, is a clear information life-cycle and understanding of what the type of documents mean in (and to) that cycle. Actually, I would bet that 99% of the world has no clue that there is an information life-cycle. (Reporters and librarians do...I hope.) With information appearing in electronic form more quickly, the examination or evaluation that occurred as materials moved through the life-cycle is being changed and sometimes lost.
How did my mind move from citations to the information life-cycle? When you do research, you are looking for pieces of a puzzle. Finding information in a book is fine, but books can be stale and are stagnant. What can be better -- depending on the topic -- is to locate articles, especially if you're researching an area that is changing. Some articles begin as press releases, so you might look for the original press release since it may contain information that was not in the article. Yes, a press release may be "corporate" viewpoint, but still good information. Of course, the best information often comes from conversations. This is were you'll get an inside view and hear rumors. (And many rumors contain elements of truth in them.) When you look at a footnote or bibliography, the information in the citations tells you where the information came from (source type) and where on the information life-cycle that person was looking. That tells you something about the person's effort, quality of work, etc.
As we know, placing more primary source materials online through digitization programs helps researchers. Instead of using materials further down the information life-cycle, they can use the original documents. To help these researchers, programs need to include information on their web sites about how the materials should be cited. Please don't assume that it is obvious. (It's not.)
Thinking again about citations, for those of us who are teaching, we need to remember to explain why citations are important and what they tell us. And we need to explain about the types of sources that can be found -- both in hardcopy and electronically -- and how to recognize them (which can be difficult online for many people) as well as judge their quality. This is a job/task that we can't forget.
Many years ago, I did a series of Info-Tips in e-mail and one was on the information life-cycle. In 2003, I guest lectured at a class in SU's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. The one handout was on the information life-cycle and is what I have referenced here.